OHF Voices: Andrea Jaeger & TasteBuds Magazine (Chattanooga, TN)

TasteBuds, administered by Crabtree Farms' Grow Chattanooga program
TasteBuds, administered by Crabtree Farms’ Grow Chattanooga program

Foodshed: “A foodshed is the area that includes where a food is produced, where it is transported, and where a food is consumed. It includes the land it grows on, the routes it travels, the markets it goes through, and the tables it ends up gracing.” (definition from about food)

Last week was a busy one! With this being my last semester of college, I’ve been trying to pack in as much exploration as possible. The ensuing adventures have mostly been within my local foodshed (Sewanee), and those surrounding. So what exactly is a foodshed? I will happily admit to using the term pretty frequently as a catch-all for the food, producers, transporters, and consumers in a given locale, but I think the definition above sums up pretty nicely. Your foodshed is your local food community, inclusive of the organic and inorganic (punny, I know). It’s a communal system of people and the land working together to feed us.

One adventure last week took me to Crabtree Farms, located just outside of downtown Chattanooga. I happened upon Crabtree Farms one night while grabbing dinner at the Mountain Goat Market in Monteagle. While waiting on my Tree Hugger sandwich (a favorite that I highly recommend to all you vegetarians out there), I picked up a magazine with the words “TasteBuds: Local Chattanooga Flavor” written across the cover of a beautiful photograph of herb bundles. I flipped through stories about healthy eating, localism, seasonal produce, soil health, edible landscaping, and delicious sounding recipes, all sprinkled with tantalizing food photos and gorgeous photos of farmers and the land. Towards the end of the magazine was a comprehensive directory of Chattanooga’s foodshed including local farms, markets, community gardens, restaurants, and related organizations. I was very taken with all of this, and flipped to the contents page to see who put together the awesomeness that was in my hands. This led to me to Crabtree Farms and Andrea Jaeger, the farm’s program coordinator and  TasteBuds’ program administrator.

I reached out to Andrea via email to see if she would be interested in meeting with me to share her story of food, farming, and publications. To my delight she responded with a time and date for a visit to Crabtree Farms.


Last Monday morning, I jumped into my car after class and hit the road for Chattanooga. When I got to the city, I drove through a residential neighborhood near downtown and was 100% sure my GPS had lost it and had taken me somewhere completely off track. No way, I thought, could there be a farm that sources local restaurants downtown, runs a food publication, and offers workshops and classes, hiding somewhere amongst these houses and sidewalks. Well, I was wrong. A few funky turns later, I found myself on a dead end road that led to the front gate of Crabtree Farms. After parking, I headed to the office to meet Andrea. She gave me a tour of the grounds, and then we sat at a nearby picnic table for a chat.

Andrea Jaeger, Program Coordinator at Crabtree Farms
Andrea Jaeger, Program Coordinator at Crabtree Farms

E: So, what’s Crabtree’s story?

A: The land we’re on has been agricultural for 100s of years. It was donated some time ago to the city, under the condition that it would remain agricultural. In 1998, our founders approached the city with the hopes of starting a farm, which worked out and we now have a 30 year lease on these 22-acres for about $1.00 a year.

Crabtree Farms
Crabtree Farms, main building
The farm

E: $1.00 a year? That is crazy, but so awesome! What a rich agricultural background. Now, what’s your story? How did you get involved with the farm?

A: I love nature, and have always kept my eyes open to the world to stay connected. I grew up in Toledo, Ohio, and went to college at Ohio State University. There I was involved with Local Matters, a non-profit organization which does similar work to Crabtree Farms’ Grow Chattanooga program. After graduating, I moved and was looking for ways to get involved. I came to a volunteer day here at Crabtree Farms, and I enjoyed it so much that I interned for them, and have been here ever since. This will be my 4th year with the farm.

E: From what I can tell, the internship program is very comprehensive, with interns having the chance to work both in the field and in the office with TasteBuds. What would you say is TasteBud’s role?

A: Our mission is really to increase production and consumption of locally grown foods within 100 miles of Chattanooga. We publish twice a year, in April and August, and in preparation we recruit partners, and decided what articles to present and who will write them. Crabtree’s staff manages the Grow Chattanooga program, of which TasteBuds is a part.

E: To me, TasteBuds is part of another avenue of the good food fight, and that is getting the word out there. For those who are passionate about local food systems, but may not necessarily want to be farmers, I think working with publications, like TasteBuds, offers a great way to have a meaningful impact. What are your thoughts on this, since you engage both sides, being the farm and the magazine?

A: TasteBuds is an excellent way for folks in the local food community to tell their story. I hear from so many people that they found out about this or that farm or food business by flipping through TasteBuds. It makes me feel good knowing that we’re helping to take some of the marketing burden off partners in the program so they can focus on producing good food for our community. What’s more, we use TasteBuds as a platform to talk about food related issues and to inform our readers about what’s going on in Chattanooga’s local food movement. There’s a lot of work to be done, and I welcome anyone who wants to help!

E: What advice would you give to those wanting to get into farming and food systems work?

A: Internships and volunteering are really great ways to get involved, get trained, and to get to know the farmers. While most opportunities are unpaid, some farms will offer work trade or barter, where in return for your work you get a season’s subscription to the farm’s CSA program, or you get to take home “seconds” produce.

Inside one of the greenhouses
Inside one of the greenhouses

I think the best advice I can give is to just be open. Put yourself out there, start networking and getting connected. There are so many ways to plug into the local food scene- you just need to get the conversation started.

E: That really is great advice, especially in today’s world where connections are made all the more easy through technology.

So, I’ve been playing with the idea of ‘foodsheds’ and the role that the concept plays in local food systems, which seems to underlie the winter issue’s focus on local eating and soil health, and is definitely embodied by the local food guide. How would you describe a “foodshed”?

A: A foodshed is the network of the people who grow and raise food, those who process and who distribute that food, and of course the people who eat it. We live in a globalized world, where we ship in food s from all over the place. While this helps us enjoy certain products year round that we’d otherwise wouldn’t have here, it comes at a cost to the environment and to the quality of foods we eat.

By shrinking our foodshed and eating foods grown or raised closer to home, not only will we be able to enjoy fresher products and minimize our global footprint, we’ll also support local farmers and keep our food dollars within the local economy.  We’re in a region that used to be super industrial, but now there’s a chance that small-scale sustainable agriculture can transform the city- the region even. And that’s pretty exciting!

E: Crabtree Farms, Grow Chattanooga and TasteBuds are definitely some of the key pieces in that transformation you’re describing. So, if someone would like to get involved in all this awesomeness that’s going on here, what are some of the opportunities open to them?

A: We accept volunteers all the time, and host interns in the office and out in the farm.There’s definitely something for everyone! An intern can do everything from photography and writing articles, to recruiting and helping farmers. It’s also a neat opportunity for people interested in communications, but who are also outdoors-minded. Each day on the farm is different, and there’s always lots of stuff to do.

Whimsical signs

E: Awesome! With the amount of programming and projects you all do I’m sure you’ll be seeing many applications for the upcoming season. Any fun facts about the farm?

A: See that thing over there? It’s a trebuchet for chuckin’ pumpkins during our Pumpkin Smash fall harvest festival, and it’s a lot of fun! Next year we plan to have multiple teams from local engineering firms out here competing to see who can build the best trebuchet. It should be interesting!

The trebuchet, aka the pumpkin chucker

Needless to say, my visit to Crabtree Farms was wonderful. It was a pleasure meeting Andrea, hearing her story, and learning about the history of the farm and all that it does in the local and regional communities. For those interested in farming, programming, or communications, definitely check out the opportunities available through Crabtree Farms. If that doesn’t pique your interest, the Chattanooga local food scene is ripe with opportunities for gastronomic adventures. Whatever you choose, it’s all good, and it’s also all in the foodshed.



OHF Voices: Mark Forest & Whole Foods Market (Asheville, NC)

“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” – Virginia Woolf

When I think about my first experiences with health food stores, I think back to the days my aunt would bring five-year-old Eva along with her to the Whole Foods Market in Alexandria, Virgina, a city just outside of D.C. where I spent a good chunk of my childhood. I’d walk with her through the aisles as she looked for supper’s ingredients or hors d’oeuvres for her next get together. Most of the time I’d walk out with fruit leather or a chocolate truffle, wondering whether I’d have to eat the tomatoes and asparagus in her grocery bag. Since then, I’ve been making a few of those Whole Foods purchases myself – including the tomatoes and asparagus – and enjoying the selection, atmosphere, and the company’s commitment to providing whole fresh produce, and sustainable, organic, and local products.

Screen Shot 2014-12-22 at 4.07.08 PM
First Whole Foods Market (source: Whole Foods Market Media Library)

Since its opening in 1980, Whole Foods has made a name for itself in the health living and wellness markets. The company carries more than 2,600 natural and organic products under the Whole Foods Market, 365 Everyday Value, and Whole Catch brands, and has been named by FORTUNE magazine as one of the “100 Best Companies to Work For” for 17 consecutive years since the list’s inception.

"Buy Local" in the Produce Section
“Buy Local” in the Produce Section (source: Whole Foods Market Media)
Health Starts Here program information at the Salad Bar
Health Starts Here program information at the Salad Bar (source: Whole Foods Market Media)

Though Whole Foods offers many options for the health seeking, organic loving, and holistic living shoppers, these shoppers, with backgrounds ranging from food stamps to 6 figure pay checks, often complain about the totals they see on the cash register at check out. Thus, the not so endearing nickname, “Whole Paycheck”. Because of Whole Foods’ size and popularity, with more than 400 locations throughout the UK, Canada and 42 states in the United States, Whole Foods has established a name for itself in the areas of health and nutrition, but it has also assisted in creating a culture of affluence and an association of wealth around fresh produce and organic products, making healthy food accessibility seems not so accessible to some communities.

This past November, Slate Magazine published an extensive article titled Can Whole Foods Change the Way Poor People Eat?: Challenging elitism, racism, and obesity with a grocery store may sound crazy. Here’s what happened when Whole Foods tried to do it in Detroit. Author Tracie MacMillan probed the motivations behind Whole Foods opening a store in Detroit to serve “all Detroiters” regardless of socioeconomic status. The article demonstrated the company’s active effort to lower prices to improve healthy food access, and provide educational workshops and resources to help those in the community be aware of the benefits of fresh wholesome foods. It also emphasized much of the beneficial work that Whole Foods does, but in doing so, it brought to light some of the most important food access related questions – What price are people willing to pay for better quality food, and at what point are suppliers willing to take a hit on sales in order to more easily provide that better quality food?

In seeking out some of the varying answers to these questions, and with hopes to gain a better understanding of the culture of Whole Foods, I sought out the perspective of a good friend of mine, Mark Forest.

The famous Mark!
Mark – a friendly face at the register and devoted Whole Foods team member

Mark is a 25-year-old from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and attended UNC Wilmington, majoring in Marketing with a minor in Leadership. In addition to being a vegetarian, outdoor-loving, snow-boarding, dog-loving, and all around nice guy, Mark has also worked at 3 different Whole Foods locations over the past 2 years, dealing primarily with customer service. One day after work I gave him a call, and this is what he had to say:

E: Alright Mark, let’s talk about you. How would you describe the kind of life you try to lead? What inspires you?

M: I’d say I try to live a positive one, and try to be as healthy as I can be. I want to put in the work and treat myself as well as I can now, so that when I’m 60 or 70 I’m not stuck in a rough spot. Take my dad – he’s 64 and has had open-heart surgery, but when we go to Colorado, he’s right there skiing along next to me, kicking ass in his old age. Also, from what I’ve seen in the field of physical therapy, there are people younger than my parents – younger than me, who are constrained by the condition of their health. They can’t do many things, and some can’t do much of anything – they’re stuck. So, I’d say I try to lead a healthy, active, and positive life.

Backpacking the Smokies with his girlfriend Margaret
Backpacking the Smokies with his girlfriend Margaret
Mark on the slopes with his dad
On the slopes with his dad (Mark on the left, Dad on the right)

In terms of inspiration, it’s just living. You get one go around, one shot at it, and it really is what you make of it. If you want to sit around and do nothing, if you want to travel, if you want to make a bunch of money, the drive is different for everyone. For me, its just to experience different things, and part of being able to do that is being healthy and eating well. I read somewhere that you should treat your body like a machine, which is essentially all that it is. You wouldn’t pour vinegar into a lawn mower and expect it to work well, and with studying the body, you put things into it that are good, that are productive and help it run better, rather than things are detrimental to it. So many companies and products have processed materials, take the Splenda craze. It’s a chemical made in a lab that your body doesn’t know what to do with it! High fructose corn syrup, artificial flavoring, and the 70% of unpronounceable ingredients on any given box of processed food stuff, it’s bad for your body. In my opinion, we’re the main generation that all this is being test on – our parents’ generation had some of it, but they didn’t have the sedentary life style that many youth have now. It’s an absolute recipe for disaster.

E: Yikes. It really is, but there are people like you and companies like Whole Foods who are offering a healthier perspective to those seeking one. So, what do you like about Whole Foods?

M: The people who work there, the people who come in, the whole environment. I’ve worked about 10 other retail jobs, and at Whole Foods the feeling is completely different. It feels more welcoming and friendly both with customers and on staff. Sometimes it definitely gets old, especially around the holidays, but overall people don’t seem as miserable as they do in big-box stores.

Whole Foods team member assisting a customer (source: Whole Foods Market Media)
Whole Foods team member assisting a customer (source: Whole Foods Market Media)

E: What would you say is Whole Foods’ mission?

M: They try to go beyond the food. They recently rolled out the Values Matter campaign, emphasizing customer and team member happiness, and local and sustainable growth. They do a lot of donations to local charities, and support local vendors. At the Asheville location, for example, we carry 3 products from vendors to try and help out the little guy. Other programs like Whole Planet that gives micro loans to mostly impoverished women to get their businesses off the ground, and Whole Cities and Whole Kids that go into less fortunate areas or local schools to try and establish healthy eating. So yeah, it’s about going beyond the food and going into community. Going beyond to what matters more while using food as a medium.

E: How would you describe the community that your store location serves? And how accessible is Whole Foods to the surrounding community?

M: It’s pretty diverse. We get people who are pretty affluent to people on food stamps. Basically everyone from the clean cut business man to the guy with the bull ring, tattoos, and dreadlocks. But beyond that spectrum of appearances, we get customers coming in who just want good quality food, or people who are into the holistic, natural, organic mindset.

Personally, I think anyone can shop at Whole Foods, but I’m probably biased because food and health are important to me. Even when I didn’t work at Whole Foods and get a discount, I still shopped there. It may be slightly more expensive for some products but it doesn’t have much or any of the junk that’s in many of products that fill the majority of shelves at other grocers. I don’t think that as a culture or a society, that America is into “whole foods” – the term not the brand – meaning food as close to their natural state as possible. We want cheap. We want fast. You can go get generic brands from another grocer that’s cheaper but has more ingredients that many view as harmful in it. Some meat and produce at Whole Foods is more expensive, but if you buy a piece of fish we can tell you exactly how that fish got there, where it came from down to where it was caught and how it was transported. In terms of produce, an apple may not look waxy without any blemishes, but it hasn’t been sitting in a cooler thousands of miles away.

I realize not everyone can afford to shop there, but for those that healthy eating is a priority it’s a good deal. There are ways to do it within budget, but there are definitely complaints about how expensive things are.

E: How do you feel about the expensive stigma, the “Whole Paycheck” notion?

M: We carry so much product that other places don’t, whether is an artisanal olive oil, chocolate, or whatever – and those products are more expensive because they’re local or harder to get. Those products are also more likely to catch the shopper’s eye and intrigue them into wanting to try whatever it may be. There’s so many products for sale that no one else carries, and consumers often want to buy more different products, which in turn oftentimes ends up being more expensive. When I was working in Colorado, a third party did a price comparison between Whole Foods and 2 other stores. The comparison bought the same 20 generic products, and Whole Foods ended up dead in the middle.

Shopper in the Whole Body section, which offers natural and organic body care supplies (source: Whole Foods Market Media)
Shopper in the Whole Body section, which offers natural and organic body care supplies (source: Whole Foods Market Media)

E: That’s probably the most unique and one of the most substantial explanations I’ve personally heard for why totals at the cash register end up so high. What do you think about the Slate article, and Whole Foods wanting to improve healthy food access as well as expand and increase profit? 

M: They need to separate the two. Given the mindset I believe America has with cheaper versus healthy, those two need to be completely exclusive. If you want to expand and be more profitable, continue opening locations in places like Lake Norman, North Carolina, which is a notoriously wealthy area, but if you want to go into less fortunate communities and provide healthy food at low cost, you need to do it with the mindset that that is what you are going to be doing, lowering costs, or only carry 365 brand generic and local products.

This may be very idealist, but if a company that big has that much money and is that well informed, they can figure out a way to keep costs low in some places and use the profits to help others. If the common American was willing to pay more for quality, it would make sense to have the profit and health grow alongside each other, but even in Asheville people complain. Everyone and their mother complains about the price. If you do complain and then don’t shop there again, that’s one thing, but something brings them back – the products, the atmosphere, or whatever it is, it makes it worth it the cost. Something keeps them coming back. For me, it’s the environment and the food.

Whole Foods New York storefront (source: Whole Foods Market Media)
Whole Foods New York storefront (source: Whole Foods Market Media)

E: What do you think about our nation’s food system?

M: It straight up caters to the nation. Monsanto and other big corporations buy out companies like Annie’s. These little companies may sell to continue to make money, or because they couldn’t survive on their own, but if a company gets bought out in order to produce more organic food, the buying is going to step in at some point somewhere and take advantage of their position of power.

The system also caters to the population. As a society we don’t care about natural food or what is in our food. I’ll never forget, about 5 years ago I ran into a big box store to pick up something small, and while checking out there was a couple behind me with a cart full of soda drinks and boxes of frozen microwaveable meat meals. I don’t eat meat, but boxed meat is even more unappealing. It’s the same thing with the fast food culture of McDonald’s, Burger King, etc. Our nation is in a hurry and it cares about money. It’s not a matter of our people not caring, but rather the government not making minimum wage higher, providing support to farmers, lax regulations, there’s so many factors that are all connected in some way. Look at European countries, where minimum wage is higher and people walk or ride bikes everywhere, and food is more affordable, because there’s more natural suppliers rather than big corporations making food.

E: With all that, what do you think Whole Foods has to offer?

M: Healthy food to people who want it. It’s the biggest company and biggest food source providing natural food to our country. It may come at a cost, but again, I do believe it is affordable if you are an informed shopper, and it may not be for everyone or important enough for everyone to spend that money, but it does provide what’s not readily available due to the state of our nation’s food system.

E: What are you hungry for others to know? What would you tell the highly hypothetical person who could change our nation’s food system at the flip of a switch?

M: I wish there was a way to deal with it all without being so money grubbing. People are greedy. It’s a similar situation with Whole Foods trying to expand but also be a neighborhood shop in poor areas. You can’t make money and help people at the same time. Look at most charities, they’re exactly that, they run on donations. I just wish there was a way that people weren’t so hungry for money. It boils down to a mess of issues. To what people want, what other companies are out there, who needs to stay in business, whatever. The little local guy can’t stay in business because the Man is producing a much bigger product that people go to because it’s cheaper. I wish there was a way to change the whole system. People still have this idealist view that there’s an old farmer on a farm that feeds his cow and milks it, and then when it’s old and can’t serve it’s purpose it gets butchered and eaten. That’s all a fiction and deception. People need to watch more documentaries.

E: Isn’t that the truth. Thank you for all your deep and critical insights. So, I like to end on a fun note – what are your top 3 favorite Whole Foods products?

M: Hmmm… Let me look in my fridge. Alright, the fresh ground nut butters – I love that that’s an option. Anything from the bakery section, the vegan almond cookies are delicious, and most of the locally made products like Buchi komboucha from Asheville and Bobo’s Oat Bars from Boulder.

Mark currently resides in Asheville, North Carolina with his golden retriever. In addition to his gig at Whole Foods, he is also a graphic artist for a firm out of Colorado. In looking to the future, he aims to pursue one of two different options, both of which lead to being in the great outdoors. Over the holidays he’ll be headed to Chapel Hill and Wilmington to spend time with his family and girlfriend, and then will be headed to Colorado to spend time riding the slopes with his family.

– E

*Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article strictly pertain to only Mark and Our Hungry Food, and are in no way related to those of Whole Foods Market, Inc.

OHF Voices: Joan Thomas, Mooney’s Market & Emporium (Monteagle, TN)

Around a sharp bend on Highway 41a in Monteagle, Tennessee, there once stood an old 30s stucco building on the verge of demolition. Today, this building now stands with new floors, windows, paint, a whole lot of funky and fun decor, and a revived spirit. Mooney’s Market and Emporium is a space much loved in the mountain community, for its local and organic food offerings, holistic wellness supplies, local artisan crafts, and for the open, interested, and nurturing community that flows in and out of its doors.

Mooney's Storefront
Mooney’s Storefront

In the areas of Monteagle and Sewanee, as well as those surrounding, there has previously been very limited access to fresh whole foods and natural products. For those seeking sustainable and organic produce and goods, many traveled to cities off the mountain, trekking out to Murfeesboro, Chattanooga, or Nashville. Thus, Mooney’s was founded out of a deep need to fill this void in the local community, supplemented with a desire to preserve the history of the old building.

Mooney’s opened in the spring of my freshman year at the University of the South in 2012, and I’ve been going ever since to get my fix of komboucha, natural snacks, knitting supplies, and to get away from times of high stress on campus. For me, it has served as a space for peace, self-love, and good food. I sat with Joan Thomas, the owner and founder of Mooney’s, to hear her story.

The lovely Joan

Joan, a beautiful earth loving mama, is originally from Cleveland, TN, but moved to Sewanee in 1985. After some time in Sewanee, during which she helped establish Jump Off Community Land Trust from the 1,200 acre Link Farm and initiated a food co-op and gardeners’ market, she left and moved to the former hippie commune of “The Farm” in Summertown, where she spent 8 years until moving back to Sewanee.

She was busy with a customer when I walked in last week around 5pm. When we finally sat down in the back room on the couches where knitting circle usually takes place, she said it was the first time she’d sat down all day. She pulled out a project she was working on, an intricately knitted sweater that was a beautiful shade of light brown. She propped her feet up on a chair, began knitting, and I couldn’t help but smile while she sat there with her signature look – hair wrapped around a stick into a bun sitting on the top of her head, store key strung on a braided rope of leather handing round her neck, and knitting needles in hand.  I popped open my bottle of Buchi and we got to talking.

E: “So, Joan, what do you love most about Sewanee?”

J: “Oh gosh, that’s a hard one! Top of the head, the community feel of it, and the fog. The fog is beautiful.”

E: “I agree. Alright, getting down to business here – what do you think about our nation’s food system?”

J: “We are in trouble. It’s horrifying, when I think about it I just can’t sleep. In general, corporate control of a food system is a really bad idea, and that’s exactly what’s happening here. From my own research about GMOs and the “organic standard”, it’s all about money and power, and if you go into conspiracy, there’s all sorts of relationships and links between the farm industry and the corporate world, but I don’t know enough about the details. Though, from what I do know, it’s bad. The organic standard is compromised by really strong lobbying, leaving the general public unable to truly trust organic labeling. And, in terms of GMOs, it’s just not what God created! It’s doused with chemicals. It’s Frankenfood doused with chemicals. If you think about it, you can’t live with it, so we do our best to buy the good stuff and deal with people we know as much as possible.”

E: “I’m with you on all those fronts. With that said, what inspired you to start Mooney’s?”

J: “First, I have always loved old buildings, so my husband and I wanted to save the old building to preserve the sense of history of an old landmark that was almost gone. Secondly, I’ve started food co-ops everywhere I’ve lived since the 70s. In my opinion and through my experiences in the community, there was a need for this resource. Since I know natural food products and had experience with start ups, and the building was there to be saved, it was almost like a mission of God to save the building and bring something to the community that it needed.”

E: “Okay, obviously I know what you sell, but for those who don’t, what does Mooney’s carry?”

J: “We sell natural and organic products, local products, yarn and knitting supplies, local handmade items, and consignment and antique items.”

Main Room
Natural Supplements and Body Care
Natural Supplements and Body Care
Lucca Dot Yarn, spun and dyed by local artist Claire Cabe

E: Right on. Who are your target customers?”

J: “Everyone! Everyone who lives here or passing through. The population is so tiny in the area that we depend on everyone who comes in and supports the business. We did this for the surrounding community, but we’ve found that the majority of our business comes from visitors, those traveling through and those connected with the weekend home and short term rental markets. We get about 50 customers every day, and we’re so grateful for each of them!”

E: “Clearly the business depends a lot on the community for support. What are some of the hardships you and the business have faced?”

J: “The small economy that we have does not have enough people in it to sustain this business in the capitalist format of the big model – it’s kind of like running a non-profit, really. Also, getting product, good product, is so difficult. There aren’t that many sources that transport product to the middle of nowhere, essentially, and that’s very challenging.”

E: “Even with it being so hard, you still manage to provide the community with fresh produce and full shelves of great products every week. What keeps the business going in the face of these hardships? What gets you, Connie, and Candi up in the morning and ready to come in and be here?”

J: “The constant positive energy and feedback. I’ve heard so many times, “Oh my god, it smells so good in here!” or “I just want to hang out here all the time!” We work really hard and do our best to provide these resources and service to the community, and the good energy of those who come in is so inspirational. Affirmation of right livelihood is abounds here, for sure.”

E: What do you think about Sewanee’s local food system?”

J: “It’s come a long way. There used to be just 2 places to eat in town. It’s a thousand times much better than it used to be, with beautiful restaurants like Crossroads, Pearls, Ivy Wild, and Julia’s, and there’s still more! Though I do wish the restaurants would serve more organic food, that does keep me from going out as much. But I am glad that we have all of these wonderful places to eat, we’ve come a long way, but still need to come further still. Carole, who runs our Crescent Cafe, knows and uses vegan, organic and non-GMO products, and we’re losing money on that because we’re probably the only place in Tennessee serving 100% non-GMO and organic food. We do it because we believe in it, it’s not about money.”

The Crescent Cafe, which serves up vegan and vegetarian dishes Thursday through Sunday from 11am to 2pm
The Crescent Cafe, which serves up vegan and vegetarian dishes Thursday through Sunday from 11am to 2pm

E: “Alright, Joan. Here it is – what are you hungry for others to know, about local food, sustainability, Mooney’s, or anything really?”

J: “For me, food is spiritual. I’m a vegetarian, and my belief is that animals want to live and enjoy life as much as we do. They are sentient beings. For me, there’s no difference between person and animal. Vegetarianism for me is spiritual. With the national food system, it’s all commoditization. It’s come down to basic survival in a culture that’s driven by supermarkets, losing the local connection and seasonal connection. In this system, people eat the things by which they can best survive – because it’s cheap, it’s easy, it’s there. Also, what’s really disturbing is that I can get food grown in California, that is then shipped to a warehouse in Charlotte, NC, and then shipped to Atlanta, GA, where my delivery truck picks it up and drives it up here. And that food, that’s been transported all that way is still cheaper than buying local. Isn’t that crazy?! Those products that are traveling all those miles, certified with papers, and are expensive to get up this mountain are still cheaper than local products, that are, by the way, priced on the basis of fair wage. It’s all economies of scale I guess, but it’s to the point that local people can’t afford to buy local food.”

Local and Organic Produce

E: “That whole system that you just described, you’re right, it’s cheap. The culture, the perspective, – it’s all very far removed from the spiritual association and treatment of food, and it’s just blatantly disturbing when the facts are laid out. What do you think are possible solutions?”

J: “In one of my previous positions working with a non-profit, I dreamed of starting a garden box project, where each person in the community would get a 4×4 sq. ft garden box with compost soil, so they could grow something – tomatoes, herbs, whatever they’d like. And afterwards, once they realized how easy it was, they would be inspired to get another box, and another, etc. It would have been wonderful to do, but the funding wasn’t there. In terms of sourcing products, you know, I can’t afford to drive all over to get a case of this and a case of that, and there’s lots of products that I just can’t afford, so I do have to get some of it from California. But, what my job consists of more than anything is shopping – making sure I get the best possible products I can, for the people and for the environment, and I never mark anything above the suggested retail price.”

E: “Thank you for all that you and the Mooney’s women do. Ok, one last question, we’ll end on a fun note. What are 3 food stuffs you can’t live without?”

J: “Easy! Kale, potatoes, and komboucha.”

Mooney’s Market Emporium is open Monday to Sunday from 10:00am to 6:00pm. If you’re driving through the area, I highly suggest stopping in, if not to get some great stuff, then simply to meet Joan, Claire, Connie, Candi, and Carole, the kind and caring women of this local Tennessee food system.

Candi and Joan
Candi and Joan

– E